Why is spoon bread a “Southern” thing?
That’s another question that came in last night, and as it happens, it plays right into what I wanted to write about today. Spoon bread is a hill country and/or Southern thing because corn has always been the dominant grain in those areas. Why? Partly because wheat doesn’t do well in hotter climates, but mostly because those parts of the U.S. have historically been quite poor.
Corn is a great grain for poor people because it’s easy to grow, easy to store and easy to mill. It can be incorporated into many kinds of foods, and converted into whiskey without terribly much effort. It’s also quite versatile, doubling as both a kitchen staple and an animal feed. Unlike wheat, which has to be threshed, cracked, ground several times and sifted, sifted, sifted, dried corn can simply removed from the cob and ground as it is. Indeed it wasn’t easy to find a flour mill in many parts of the South in the 1800’s, but every town had a grist mill. Farmers would bring their dried corn to these mills for grinding, and in return the miller would keep a portion of the crop for himself.
Coarse corn grinds would be used for livestock, and finer grinds for “people food.” Sometimes, a grind intended for human consumption would be sifted, with the finer product would be sold off as corn meal, the coarser as grits. Quite useful stuff, corn, despite what it’s present-day detractors have to say about it.